When leadership development programs fail, it is for predictable reasons. Understanding and accounting for the simple things that can derail a leadership development experience is essential for delivering results for both the short- and long-term health of the program.
According to the American Society for Training & Development, businesses in the United States spent more than $156 billion on leadership training programs in 2012. But after training is completed, only 15 percent of the skills taught are applied on the job. In theory, that means that roughly $133 billion is wasted on leadership development.
Watch for these roadblocks to reduce that waste and make every dollar count.
Lack of executive sponsorship: First and foremost, any strategic leadership development effort must be supported by the executive team. Executives should be engaged in the early formation of design needs. This engagement process serves the purpose of tapping into executives for roles in program delivery to further link the leadership content to the business.
Moreover, successful large-scale projects have an advisory board, a group distinct from the core design team, consisting of key business stakeholders and human resource leaders. They work to shape the direction of the program, keep it relevant and drive accountability through metrics reporting.
Incorrectly diagnosing the leadership needs: Start each engagement with the simple question: “Leadership for what?” The business needs are the driving force for taking leaders offsite to focus on developing capabilities. Linking development experiences to business needs — and stretching participants — is the key to success.
Investing in the wrong people at the wrong time: Resources for developing leaders are scarce. Developing every individual with a deep learning experience is just not possible or practical. By focusing efforts on those populations that will provide the greatest value for realizing an organization’s strategy, a company is primed to achieve the promise of new leadership behaviors and skills.
Assuming that “leaders teaching leaders” is a quick and easy fix: Many organizations have embraced the leaders teaching leaders methodology, which is a fantastic way to link the learning to the business and inspire future leaders. However, this plan can backfire when the design team fails to properly prepare leaders to deliver the program or does not appropriately match content with the facilitation skill set.
Assuming senior leaders are automatically dynamic and skilled facilitators or teachers in front of a large group can negatively affect the program results while also damaging those leaders’ reputations. Play to leaders’ strengths and support the program’s intended outcomes.
Not having an implementation plan: It’s easy to get caught up in the early deliverables of a new program — the excitement of the launch, the mental stimulation of the creative design process and the details for pulling off a successful pilot program.
However, for a scalable and global impact beyond the first cohort, it’s essential to prepare for the rollout simultaneously. This includes program marketing, the extent that content will be localized versus globally consistent, operations planning and participant enrollment. Neglect any of these areas and momentum could be lost due to delay or the program execution could be uncoordinated — resulting in errors, dilution of consistent results or duplication of efforts.
The last five roadblocks relate to the actual delivery of an individual program.
Hiring facilitators who don’t represent you: An external master facilitator is often able to unlock learning and discussions in a way that can be difficult to achieve internally. Also, for practical reasons, many clients lack the internal resources to deliver. It’s important to realize this and take ownership of the fact that the external facilitator is an extension of an organization.
While the facilitator and consultant market is fairly saturated, truly exceptional external facilitators with the capability to quickly immerse themselves and know the business in an authentic way are in high demand and booked months in advance. All consultants should be carefully vetted and thoughtfully onboarded.
Picking the wrong venue: Creating an environment that optimizes learning — without distraction — is a worthwhile investment. The venue does not necessarily need to be a luxury venue if this does not suit the culture, but it does need to provide the right space for learning to happen.
For example, the venue should be away from the day-to-day office environment, spacious for movement and networking, and appropriate to the design. It should also have natural light and comfortable seating.
Not mixing application and content: Programs that lack application to leaders’ own leadership challenges are often content heavy and perceived as too theoretical and academic, ultimately creating difficulty for some in translating learning into action. Action back on the job is the real purpose of a program. Design that is overly reliant on application may not provide the frameworks for deep and rich learning. This is a paradox that must be managed throughout the design and delivery.
Not giving energy breaks: Similar to choice of venue and appropriate mix of content and application, building in energy breaks for stretching and healthy snacks is part of creating an optimal learning environment. Powering to “get through” the design is a false economy since retention of learning is dramatically reduced.
Not building in reflection time: In the design phase, it is tempting to cram lots of content, exercises and activity into a program because at that time it can all feel urgent and important. Prioritization and building in actual reflection time will allow leaders to absorb learning and reflect on relevance and application.
Albertina Vaughn is a managing partner at Pivot, a global executive development firm. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.